This is a true story about the life of one of many thousands of Polish families taken from their homes, from their country and forcibly transported deep into the Siberian forest by the Soviets in February 1940.
CHAPTER 2 – Get ready all of you - SOVIET INVASION
The year 1939 came, and with it came the talk of war. When the war started we did not see much of the action, except that we had a lot of refugees. The first piece of action we saw was after Soviet troops invaded and occupied Eastern Poland in the middle of September.
That day on the main road some distance away there were a lot of horses and carts carrying refugees; there were also some Polish soldiers going south. At about four o’clock that afternoon three Soviet war planes came over just past our house, turned round and opened fire on the road. I was out in the fields, and the planes were flying so low that I could see flashes every time they fired. The planes attacked the road once again and then flew away.
After it was all over twenty six refugees came to our house and asked if they could stay for a few days. Amongst them was a young lady wounded in the thigh. She needed medical attention, but there were no doctors. A few days later some Ukrainians arrived bringing with them three or four horses and carts. They gathered all the refugees into a room and demanded all their jewellery and all other valuables. Later they took these poor people outside, loaded them onto the carts and drove them away. I do not know what became of them.
About a fortnight later I was out in the field looking after some cattle when two armed Ukrainians approached me. One of them (he knew our family) asked me who was shooting at the house earlier. I replied that I did not know, that I did not hear any shots. They were just about to walk away when the other one pointed his rifle at my head and said something. I felt very strange, unable to move when looking into the barrel of the rifle which was only about a foot away from my forehead. I thought that was it, and that I was going to die, flashed through my mind, and my legs were like jelly. I thought, any moment it will be all over, but after a while they walked away leaving me standing there, trembling like a leaf.
Winter came early that year and it was a hard one, there was a lot of snow and severe frost. Christmas came and went. I do not remember much about it, but the year itself was a memorable one.
Then came the New Year 1940, but it did not bring any joy for us either. On 10 February that year (I remember it as if it were yesterday) at about four in the morning there was a loud knock on the door. We all jumped out of our beds and my dad went and opened the door. There stood a Russian soldier and two Ukrainians, all armed, and they pushed their way in. We just stood there afraid to move while they searched the house; then the soldier said to my father (he could understand some Russian) “get ready, all of you”. When my dad asked where we were going and what to take, the answer was, “take what you can, you are being resettled”.
There were seven of us in the family; Mum and Dad, my older sister who was fourteen, I was thirteen, two younger sisters, one eleven and one five, and my brother, who was only three at the time. Mum dressed the youngest two whilst the rest of us got dressed. Outside stood a horse driven sledge already, waiting for us. We collected all our bedclothes and loaded them onto a sledge. Mother wrapped the two youngest in eiderdowns and sat them amongst all the bundles. Then we collected all we could think of (it is very hard to think at a time like this), tied it all in bundles and in blankets, and loaded them all onto the sledge.
We set off at about six in the morning. Mum and the three youngest were riding, dad, my older sister and I were walking as there was no room for us all on the sledge. It was not easy walking in the deep snow, but at least we could keep warm. It was bitterly cold and the temperature was nearing -30 degrees C.
After a while we turned our heads to have a last look at our house, the home to which we would never return. I hope that maybe sometime I can go back, even if only for a few days, to the place where I was born, to see my uncle’s family – I have not seen them for over fifty years – to walk the fields like I used to do when I was a lad. East Poland where I was born is part of Ukraine now. Even so, perhaps one day it will be possible for me to return there.
About an hour or so later we arrived at the nearest village where my uncle lived. As we were passing their house, my father asked if we could stop so he could say goodbye to his brother. We stopped for only a few minutes. It was so emotional, there were plenty of tears and then we set off again. Most of the villagers came out as we were passing through; some were crying and nobody knew what was happening and why we were being taken away.
Some two hours later we arrived at another village where we stopped at a school which was a gathering point. There were a lot of families and we met all our neighbours there. We stayed there for about an hour. Villagers provided us with some food which was a sort of breakfast cum dinner. Then we were on the road again to the small town of Holoby and the railway station.
A train was standing there consisting of goods wagons with sliding doors and we were herded like cattle into one of them. If I am not mistaken there were twenty five of us, plus all our belongings in our wagon. At each end of the full width of the wagon there were beds of boards in two tiers with just enough room for a person to sit between top and bottom. In the middle of the wagon was a round cast iron stove. By the other door which was locked, was a hole in the floor and that was our toilet. There were no screens or anything else around it. When everybody was aboard the doors were shut and the train pulled away.